"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A New Find - Marco Vichi

I have stumbled on a new, delightful mystery series, another set in Italy.  Florence this time.  The early 60's.  The Inspector, 53 year old, Inspector Bordelli, a non-smoker wannabe who prefers the company of a petty thief, a former prostitute and other societal misfits.  Bordelli reminds me somewhat of the Sicilian Montalbano, direct, compassionate, accustomed to the harsh realities of life, yet still an optimist and a bit of a romantic.  Like other Italian mystery series, this is filled with references to food and attention to the atmosphere of the fascinating cities in which the mysteries unfold.

The first installment in the series, the one I finished in a day, Death in August, sets the stage for the rest of the series (four in translation at this time), the crime itself being of lesser importance than the creation of context.  There is a lot of information about Bordelli's background, which in itself makes this introduction a tad unique.  Information about his war experiences, his early introduction to sex, his family, his moral code.  And the minor cast characters are developed with enough detail to make them interesting and reasonable as folks a man like Bordelli would consider his friends.

I like characters like Bordelli, full of contradictions, using both reason and intuition to address the crime (and his personal life as well), flawed yet admirable, characters who reflect and in those reflections give me something to reflect upon, too.  Like Montalbano and Inspector Morse, Hercule Poirot and Adam Dagliesh.  I enjoy a mystery that depends more upon clues and old-fashioned persistence and teamwork than modern forensics for its solution.  A mystery more about the human element than blood and core, even with a touch of humor.  A mystery that teaches me something about history and/or other cultures. And I love Florence.  Will definitely continue with this series!

A footnote - the translation of this novel was done by Stephen Sartarelli, who also has translated Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano series.  So there is a decent section of notes to help with the Italian references as well as a natural rhythm that only a good translator can achieve.  Having recently read another translated novel without notes and with awkward phrasing and strange analogies, I more thoroughly appreciate Sartarelli's contribution and skills.


Monday, February 4, 2013

A Mystery Maven - Ruth Rendell

Someday I may understand why I suddenly go on a binge of murder mysteries - there may be none for months and then, a half dozen in a row.  This time, four Ruth Rendell novels in two weeks!

Baroness Rendell is my second favorite English mystery author, second only to her good friend, P. D. James.  Like James, Rendell is a prolific writer of psychological thrillers, whose characters are etched in shades of gray and whose plots are clever and engrossing. Articulate, without being affected; murder, without mayhem, undue violence or gratuitous sex; an easy, but not simple, read.

Now in her 80's, she is still writing, with a new novel to be published this year.  With over 20 novels that feature the popular Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and an interesting cast of family and colleagues, and over 20 stand alone mysteries, plus a series written under her alternate ego, Barbara Vine, I doubt I will ever exhaust the supply of her writing...thankfully.

Although I typically prefer to read a series in chronological order, I have not done so with Rendell's, jumping across decades and mixing the Wexford novels with a few stand alones; I can truthfully say I've never been disappointed.  The four this binge have been Simisola (1995), The Veiled One (1988), Best Man to Die (1969) and Guilty Thing Surprised (1970). My favorite - Simisola.